Belfast is planning to build a new public safety headquarters that will put the city's fire, ambulance and police departments under one roof. The project will be partly funded by a $1.5 million award in the federal spending bill passed on Thursday, Dec. 23.

Belfast was awarded $1.5 million in federal funding to build a public safety headquarters that will combine its police, fire and ambulance departments on one property.

The Belfast project marks one of the highest awards on U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ list for public safety funding in Maine as part of the $1.7 trillion fiscal spending package Congress approved on Friday, though Mayor Eric Sanders said the total cost of the project is unclear and will likely take much more money to build.

It’s a part of an ongoing effort to modernize infrastructure across Belfast — often with the use of federal and state funding. The city built a new public works facility and solar array in 2019, and was awarded $972,000 by the federal government in 2022 to rehabilitate road and pedestrian infrastructure on Wight and Congress streets.

City Manager Erin Herbig said the building will boost collaboration between the departments, cut energy costs, and help to attract and retain first responders amid a statewide staffing shortage.

The city is looking to build the new headquarters behind the current fire and ambulance station on Main Street, just outside of downtown.

The building will also give first responders necessary amenities and safety features, such as designated sleeping areas at the fire station, Sanders said. There also aren’t any showers, which the Firefighter Cancer Support Network says are essential to use immediately after a fire to reduce exposure to carcinogens. Instead, Sanders said, firefighters must travel to the public works facility after what can be long shifts to take showers.

Sanders said the infrastructure updates are part of a larger effort to modernize, especially when it comes to public safety. In the last year, Sanders said the city has taken a proactive approach to the statewide shortage of first responders by upping pay scales, offering hiring bonuses, and boosting benefits.

Herbig said the city’s next step is to seek council approval to hire an engineering firm that will calculate preliminary cost estimates. Depending on how things play out, the city could instead expand and renovate the current fire station. The vote to hire an engineering firm will go before the city council at its Jan. 3 meeting.

Herbig is also looking into state and federal grants to upgrade the breakwater on the Belfast Harbor to prepare for rising sea levels and extreme weather events caused by climate change.